The majority of Yankee Universe had all but given up on him, but as he stood alone in the corner of the visitors' clubhouse at Comerica Park just after midnight Wednesday, he spoke of one person in particular who gave him all the advice he needed before his big day.
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He scrolled through his text messages and after a few seconds began to read aloud. "He said, 'I trust you and I believe in you, so let's get this series to New York, brother.' ''
It was Burnett who had provided support to Nova, through phone calls and text messages, when the rookie found himself back in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in July. And with the Yankees' season on the brink in Detroit, Nova felt compelled to return the favor.
"Man, that was unbelievable," Nova said of Burnett's performance Tuesday night, in which he allowed just one run (a solo homer to Victor Martinez) in 52/3 innings in a win-or-go-home Game 4. "Like I told him, I trust him, he just has to go out there and have fun. Don't put no pressure on yourself and enjoy what you do."
Nova was one of the first players to congratulate Burnett in the dugout. "I texted him last night: We've got to take the series back to New York and you don't have to put no pressure on yourself. Just enjoy and relax and have fun. If it's working for me, it's got to be working for him."
Burnett said he couldn't help but be deeply touched by his teammate's gesture.
"You get goose bumps. Immediately, you know?" Burnett said. "[Nova's] got this thing where he wins baseballs, when he does good, from Chad . He always wants to earn the baseball. So I told him, 'I want my pelota,' " Burnett said, referring to the Spanish word for "ball."
"It feels good. He didn't have to send me that text, you know? He calls me big brother for a reason, I guess."
At first glance, the two pitchers may seem like the unlikeliest of pairs. But when they speak of one another, true admiration and respect is evident.
"A.J. and Ivan, their relationship has taken off this year," manager Joe Girardi said. "And they do a lot of things together at the ballpark; the running and the working out. It's good, because A.J. has been a guy that has logged a lot of innings in his career in the big leagues and understands what it physically takes to get through that."